Category Archives: Immigration

Shitholes and the American Dream

I know I’m late to this story, but it took me a while to figure out how to say what I wanted to say about one of the more recent things President Donald Trump said about immigration:

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday.

I do think people should be mad at Trump, but I think a lot of people are mad at him for the wrong reason.

Many people, especially those from Haiti and Africa, have been disputing the word “shitholes.” Given the sorts of things I write, I can’t complain about the obscenity, and if we take “shithole” as a hyperbolic way of saying those are not very nice places to live — at least when compared to developed countries like the United States — then many of those places are indeed…crudely speaking…shitholes.

Obviously, quality of life varies from person to person, and there’s no clear way to measure it, but there are some commonly-accepted proxy measurements, such as GDP per capita, infant mortality, and the Freedom House rating. So we can observe that Haiti has a GDP per capita of $1,784, which is less than 1/30 of what we produce in the United States, the infant mortality rate is eight times higher than the U.S., and Freedom House rates Haiti as only Partly Free.

Furthermore, when Haiti was hit with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake just outside of Port-au-Prince in 2010, the collapse of its poorly-constructed buildings killed at least 100,000 people. By comparison, when a similar 6.9 earthquake struck near far-wealthier San Francisco in 1989, it killed only 63 people. After Haiti’s earthquake, the country suffered a cholera outbreak that killed an additional 9,480 people. Compared to how we live in the United States, Haiti is a pretty awful place to live.

Sub-Saharan Africa is more of the same. GDP per capita is about $3,823 per person per year. Of the 25 largest countries, encompassing 90% of the population, the best economic performance comes from South Africa, with $13,225 GDP per capita, which is less than 1/4 the US GDP per capita. Infant mortality in the best country is five times that of the United States, and about half the countries have infant mortality rates more than ten times the U.S. rate. Freedom House’s ratings tell us that 39% of the population is living in countries that are not Not Free and only 11% of the people are fully Free. Of the seven famines that have occurred so far this century, six of them were in Africa.

These are not uniformly terrible places. They have pockets of commerce and industry, of art and science, and they have some areas that are great places to live. But on average, for most of the people living there, quality of life sucks compared to the United States.

It’s important, however, to put this in perspective. Modern humans first show up in the fossil record about 300,000 years ago. For most of the time since then, up until the start of what economist Deirdre McCloskey calls “The Great Enrichment” a few hundred years ago, the average human lived on the equivalent of about $3 per person per day, and the infant mortality rate was as much as fifty times worse that the current U.S. rate. The poorest countries of the world today, including Haiti and Africa, have a quality of life that is still better on average than what most humans have experienced throughout almost our entire existence as a species. In other words, until quite recently, the entire fucking planet was a shithole.

(Just as there are exceptions within even the poorest countries today, there were exceptions throughout history — wealthy cities such as Babylon, Memphis, Athens, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople, Tenochtitlan, and Beijing — but only a small group of people were ever able to live in them.)

Author William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” He might as well have been talking about the Great Enrichment. It started a few hundred years ago and it took off big time in the West. It’s spreading everywhere, but in some places it has only just begun.

Having said all that, I still think Trump, and people who agree with him, are badly wrong. To begin explaining why, let me tell you two true things about myself:

True Thing #1: Judging by my income, I am one of the most productive people in the world. I’m easily in the top 1% world-wide. (See the Global Rich List to find out how you rank.)

True Thing #2: True Thing #1 has almost nothing to do with me. I’m reasonably smart, reasonably well educated, and I have a reasonably good work ethic, which helps a bit, but almost all of my advantage over the rest of the world comes from having the great good fortune of living in the United States. If I were to move to Haiti or El Salvador or Zimbabwe, my productivity, and therefore my income, would crash down to the local levels or worse. I would probably die an early death.

The opposite is also true: Conditions in the “shitholes” of the world have almost nothing to do with the people who live there. Trump’s biggest mistake was not calling some countries “shitholes,” but in not recognizing that just because people live in shitty places doesn’t mean they are shitty people.

When people from third-world countries come here, they will find an advanced modern civilization with safe drinking water, mass immunization, efficient transportation, rule of law, personal and economic freedom, private property, courts that enforce contracts and award damages for torts, educated people, massive capital investment, real estate titles, innovative technology, reliable institutions, useful ethics and traditions, and millions of other highly productive people to trade with. In that environment, they will become vastly more productive.

In theory, that should be obvious to supporters of the MAGA revolution. The campaign was premised, after all, on the idea that the United States was suffering not because its people were lacking, but because its rulers were terrible, and if we just replaced the establishment politicians at the top, the greatness of the American people would carry the day and Make America Great Again. Unless you have some theories about the superiority of white people, there’s no reason to assume that all the problems of places like Haiti and Africa aren’t also caused by terrible leaders, and that the bulk of the people there are just as good as we are.

Another major cause of poor conditions in Haiti and Africa is that they have been subject to centuries of colonialism, exploitation, corruption, and slavery. And even when the colonial powers pulled out, they left behind damaged governments, damaged institutions, and a damaged civil society — all the ingredients for spawning corrupt dictatorships.

Some defenders of Trump’s remarks claim that he’s just restating our policy of merit-based immigration:

The argument that the U.S. should prioritize admitting immigrants with better education, skills and financial resources has been a legitimate policy position for decades.

That excuse doesn’t work because “Haiti” is not a level of education, and “Norway” is not a skill. Trump didn’t say “Why do we get so many fruit pickers instead of mechanical engineers?” He was talking specifically about national origin.

You could argue that national origin is not race, and therefore it’s not racist, but it’s still Trump judging people collectively by the groups they involuntarily belong to, rather than as individuals. It may not be racism, but it’s the same kind of thing as racism. And given the general racial characteristics of people in Norway and people in Africa or Haiti, it’s not hard see that Trump wants fewer brown people.

Furthermore, so-called “merit-based” immigration is a pretty freaking weird thing for “small government” conservatives to support. Talk to conservatives about business regulations, and they’ll argue that companies can reach agreements with their customers and employees without unnecessary government intervention that would only increase costs and stifle innovation. Ask a conservative about limiting fossil fuel consumption or distributing clean energy subsidies, and they’ll explain that our mix of energy sources should be decided by the market, and that the government should not be “picking winners” in the economy.

The basic argument is that there’s no good reason to believe that government employees know enough about the economy to make those kinds of decisions better than the market can. This seems like an argument that applies to immigration policy as well: There’s no possible reason to believe that Trump or Congress know enough about the U.S. economy to plan the mix of education and skills that millions of employers will need in the workforce for years into the future. And yet suddenly conservatives think we need federal government to forcibly control who we can hire from other countries: “Sorry Haitians, we’re only taking Norwegians this decade.”

Speaking of Norway, let’s address Trump’s puzzlement over why we don’t get more Norwegian immigrants. The most obvious reason is that Norway is a small country with only 5.3 million residents — slightly fewer than Minnesota. Haiti has twice as many people, and Sub-Saharan Africa has close to 200 times as many. We don’t get many Norwegians because there aren’t many Norwegians.

Even allowing for population differences, there’s also the fact that Norway’s GDP per capita is about 20% higher than that of the United States, and the infant mortality rate in Norway is half the U.S. rate. So the answer to we don’t get more immigrants from Norway is Why would they want to come? Compared to Norway, the United States is the shithole.

That’s kind of how immigration works. Whether they’re traveling across the ocean, relocating to another city for a job, or moving to a better school district, people migrate in hope that the new place they live will lead to a higher quality of life. We’re all here because someone decided they wanted to get the hell out of some shithole somewhere else.

Let people live someplace better, someplace that rewards hard work and innovation, and they will live better lives. When Emma Lazarus put these words in the Statue of Liberty’s mouth,

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I like to believe that she wasn’t inviting the poor and homeless to come here because we would take care of them, but because we would not get in their way. We would let the huddled masses have their freedom. We would take in the wretched refuse, and we would let them seek the opportunities that would allow them to thrive. That was, and for many immigrants still is, the American Dream.

The DOJ’s Dick Move on Legal Aid for Immigrants

Ever since President Trump took office, we’ve been hearing a lot about the public interest legal organizations that have been helping immigrants with the legal fight to come to America and remain here. That these organizations are even necessary is because immigration law is (for the most part) civil law, not criminal law. In many ways that’s a good thing, because it means that people who violate immigration rules aren’t saddled with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

But there’s a nasty twist: Because they are not charged with a crime, they do not have a Sixth Amendment right to a government-provided lawyer under Gideon. That’s the “If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you” part of the Miranda warning. People with immigration problems don’t have that right, so indigent defendants can go through the entire deportation process without ever having a lawyer at their side. Even children. (That story is insane, but it’s not a lone example.)

Having a lawyer is really important. As immigration lawyer Mirriam Seddiq put it in an email to me,

The real problem is that people in immigration court don’t have the right to counsel. They can get one if they can get one, but they aren’t entitled to it in the same way they are in the criminal context (no 6a right) This is a thing that probably needs to change because what could be worse than being sent away from your entire world to another country?

Because of that, these public interest organizations have taken it on themselves to offer a variety of free services, from helping with paperwork to fully representing people through deportation proceedings.

I guess that pisses off someone like Donald Trump, and now it looks like his man at the Department of Justice, Jeff Sessions, is striking back with a cease-and-desist letter to one of these organizations, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which describes it this way:

The DOJ letter purports to rely on agency regulations issued in 2008 that require attorneys to enter a formal notice of appearance if they provide any legal assistance to persons in deportation proceedings. However, the immigration courts do not allow limited appearances, so once an attorney files a notice of appearance they are obligated to take over full representation in the deportation proceedings.

The problem is that NWIRP is not staffed to fully represent a lot of people through the entire process. They’ve found they most effectively use their limited resource by giving a smaller amount of help to a larger number of people.

While NWIRP is able to provide full representation in some of those cases, the majority of people are left without an attorney. In response, NWIRP has historically provided limited assistance to help those individuals fill out applications for asylum, cancellation of removal, family visas; file motions to reopen removal proceedings, change venue, and to terminate proceedings; and advise them on defenses, forms of relief, and the procedural requirements for moving forward on cases. But now the cease and desist order has caused a dramatic and immediate impact in the way NWIRP is able to serve hundreds of unrepresented persons.

The DOJ order is based on regulations from the Executive Office for Immigration Review intended to protect immigrants from unscrupulous lawyers who take advantage of them by taking a fee and then disappearing without helping them. Obviously, lawyers who work for free aren’t trying to take advantage of anyone, and organizations like NWIRP have long been allowed to operate without having to follow this rule.

Now, however, somebody at Sessions’ Justice Department wants to enforce this rule against NWIRP, and presumably other such organizations, probably because they think this would be a good way to fulfill Trump’s goal of getting more illegal immigrants out of the country.

Any way you look at it, it’s kind of a dick move. Fortunately, at least for now, it’s a dick move that’s blocked by a federal judge. But it’s not a good sign.

(Hat tip to my occasional co-blogger Ken, who directed me to a Nation story by Rachel B. Tiven. Read the whole thing.)

The Rampant Anti-Americanism of our Immigration Authorities

I often deride this country’s immigration bureaucracies for lacking in American values. Both Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are intolerant of diversity, have no appreciation for privacy, and have little respect for freedom.

I get them confused all the time. As near as I can tell, the difference is that if they’re being assholes to people crossing the border, it’s CBP, but if they’re being assholes to people who are already here, it’s ICE. As a separate matter, if they’re being assholes to people they suspect of committing crimes, then HSI is probably involved. And of course if they’re being assholes in airports, it’s the TSA. Really, it’s probably all of DHS. They’re probably all assholes.

Anyway, Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason gave us a few good examples of ICE (or maybe HSI) being assholes in a recent post:

On September 1, 2016, “Sunny” Kimnam gave a massage and a hand-job to an undercover police informant. Since that day, she has been incarcerated, and faces likely deportation to Korea.

They aren’t the only ones who’ve been caught up in immigration after a prostitution bust:

A 2016 sting on a massage parlor in Macomb County, Michigan, that led to the arrest of five Chinese women on prostitution charges has already led to the deportation of two of the women. Two others are still in custody, awaiting trial. The fifth woman, 50-year-old Meijuan Yu, just recently plead guilty to offering prostitution and was sentenced to two years probation—deferred so that Homeland Security could immediately take her into custody and get started on deporting her back to China.

On February 9, 2017, Homeland Security Investigations teamed up with two county sheriff’s offices to raid Donah’s Massage Therapy in Winnie, Texas, as part of an undercover investigation they’d been plotting since December. Three women—Song Ja Hyun, 59, Shunyu Quan, 53, and Ying Yu Jin, 53—were arrested and charged with misdemeanor prostitution; Jin was also charged with aggravated promoting prostitution, a felony. As of earlier this week, Hyun and Jin were being held in Chambers County Jail on ICE detainers, according to ABC affiliate 12 News Now.

Sex workers are common targets for immigration authorities. Here’s an example of CBP harassing a woman they think might by involved in prostitution. And here’s another example of them blocking entry to the U.S. by a suspected male escort.

This is wrong on so many levels, but the thing that most boggles my mind, the thing that really shows the depths of depravity of our immigration authorities is that foreigners are coming here to have sex with us, and these assholes are stopping them!

What the fuck? Why the hell would they do that to us?

Hand jobs are funny, so at first glance this sounds like a funny story. Perhaps it even sounds like I’m making light of a serious situation. I’m sorry for that, but I have a serious point to make, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I don’t mean to downplay how much it sucks to be blocked from entering the country, and I know that getting deported is a disaster for many people: They get locked up, they lose their jobs, they’re separated from family and friends, and they could easily lose their personal property and pets. By the time it’s all done, they could end up in a country that they hate. Or worse, they could end up in a country that hates them. That’s terrible, and I don’t think we should be putting people through that without a damned good reason. And I don’t think minor crimes — including illegal entry — are good reasons.

However, a lot of immigration hawks don’t care that they’re putting these people through hell. They’re immigrants, and they either entered illegally or committed a crime while here (or so ICE says), so who gives a shit what happens to them, right? They have no rights that an immigration cop is bound to respect.

Given that attitude, maybe I need to try another argument. Which brings me back to hand jobs. And to the serious point I need to make: Deporting “Sunny” Kimnam is undoubtedly bad for her. But it’s also bad for all us Americans who will no longer be able to get hand jobs from her. We are suffering too.

I know, hand jobs are funny…but it’s not just about hand jobs. Immigrants, including illegal immigrants, do a lot of jobs for us Americans. They farm our food, or catch it at sea. They plant forests, care for them, and cut them into timber. They build and maintain buildings, and care for the grounds around them. They make our clothes, prepare our food, and clean our houses. They help us around the office and sell our products. They do a lot of things. And yes, some of them do sex work. But the thing is, they are working for us, and taking them away takes away the benefits of the things they do.

Immigrants aren’t just a labor force, however. They are also, by the millions, our customers. By their employment they earn money, and by spending that money, they employ us. They are part of our rich and diverse economy. They are working with us to improve all our lives. Taking them away takes away the benefits of trading with them.

Even more than that, immigrants, including illegal immigrants, are members of our families — husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents. They are our neighbors. They are important members of our communities. They are our friends and our lovers. Taking them away takes away takes away their friendship, their care, and their love.

The folks running our immigration authorities may think the lives of illegal immigrants deserve no respect. They may think illegal immigrants deserve the harm that comes to them when they are deported. But we are their fellow Americans, and we goddamned well deserve respect. Every time they remove someone, we lose all the benefits of having that person in our lives, and the fact that they got laws passed to make the removal legal does nothing to reduce the loss.

They are harming us, their fellow Americans. Which makes them about as anti-American as you can get.

A Few Random Thoughts About Sanctuary Cities

I never really gave much thought to sanctuary cities before, but the more I hear about them these days, the more I like them.

First of all, it’s always nice to see someone stick their finger in the eye of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Second, immigration law is federal law, and if the feds want it enforced they can damned well do it themselves. I’m still pissed off that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act required employers to check employees’ citizenship status (i.e. “showing their papers”) and fill out an I-9 form to get a job, thus drafting all the nation’s Human Resources staff into doing ICE’s job for them. I certainly don’t think that cities and towns should be spending time and money investigating people’s citizenship status if they don’t want to. And if ICE agents are too slow to investigate someone’s citizenship status themselves, they shouldn’t be trying to dragoon local jails into holding people while they figure it out. If they want to hold someone, they should do it themselves.

Third, immigration opponents love to ask “If you think illegal immigrants are okay, then why don’t you let them to move in with you?” Well, that’s pretty much what sanctuary cities are doing, so what the heck is the problem? By definition, sanctuary cities protect illegal immigrants who live there. Residents of sanctuary cities are saying, in effect, that they like the immigrants in their community, illegal or not, and want them to stay. It’s the distant anti-immigrant busybodies who aren’t welcome.

A Betrayal of Green Card Holders

Apparently, thanks to an executive order by Donald Trump, the United States is betraying its green card holders.

The bans affect travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and even extends to green card holders who are granted authorization to live and work in the United States, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman.

I say “apparently” because some part of me resists believing that this is actually happening. I keep hoping that CBP agents in the field are misinterpreting the order, because otherwise this is really sick.

Green card holders are lawful permanent residents. We made them a promise that they could live here if they obey the rules. As it is, we revoke permanent residency for way too many reasons, but this isn’t even a revocation. The Trump administration, backed up by the jackbooted thugs of the Customs and Border Patrol, are simply preventing certain valid green card holders from entering the United States. In theory, they are still allowed to live here, but they’re not allowed to cross the border to get here. This applies even to permanent residents who actively live here, but who have left the U.S. temporarily to visit family in another country or to go on a honeymoon.

This isn’t protecting America from terrorism. It’s just being cruel to people because you can.

Trump v.s. Immigration

There’s something surreal about discussing Donald Trump’s policy positions. It’s like discussing my cat’s nutritional and exercise choices — they both just do what they do because of what they are. Trump’s plan for everything is that all things will be better because Trump will be doing them. His so-called “positions” are just the talking points his staff has put together. I think reporters could get some mileage asking him questions about the details and seeing how much he remembers.


Trump’s only position paper so far is on immigration, and I’d like to address just a few of the points he makes.

When politicians talk about “immigration reform” they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders.

Well, all three of those things sound pretty good to me. Keeping residents on the run from the immigration police all their lives is a recipe for a rebellious underclass, I certainly don’t want to have to buy all my goods and services from overpriced labor, and with open borders it won’t cost as much to fight illegal immigration because most of it will be legal.

Here are the three core principles of real immigration reform:

1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.

If a nations must have borders and borders must have walls… So, we’re still not a nation yet then, are we?

(Remaining two points omitted because they are empty slogans.)

Meanwhile, Mexico continues to make billions on not only our bad trade deals but also relies heavily on the billions of dollars in remittances sent from illegal immigrants in the United States back to Mexico ($22 billion in 2013 alone).

First of all, making money off of trade deals is why we have trade deals. Mexicans wouldn’t trade with us if there wasn’t something in it for them.

Second, the $22 billion figure is a lie. If you read the source he links to, a Fox news item, the $22 billion figure is total remittances, not just remittances from illegal immigrants.

Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages;

That’s a foolish and empty promise. If the U.S. government tried to stop remittances, people would just send illegally, creating yet another underground economic activity. We can’t even stop drug cartels from moving billions of dollars across the border every year.

America will only be great as long as America remains a nation of laws that lives according to the Constitution. No one is above the law. The following steps will return to the American people the safety of their laws, which politicians have stolen from them:

I’m pretty sure that paragraph doesn’t actually mean anything.

Triple the number of ICE officers. As the President of the ICE Officers’ Council explained in Congressional testimony: “Only approximately 5,000 officers and agents within ICE perform the lion’s share of ICE’s immigration mission…Compare that to the Los Angeles Police Department at approximately 10,000 officers.

Why in God’s name would we want more ICE officers? They’re one of the most awful groups of people you can name. Whether they’re turning back friendly tourists, keeping out musical styles they don’t understand, jailing people for years and deporting them for crimes they were never convicted of, letting cancer victims die in their custody, or kicking out women because they might have sex with American men, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, it would be hard to find less tolerant bunch of thugs that wasn’t being tracked by the DOJ Civil Rights office.

Nationwide e-verify. This simple measure will protect jobs for unemployed Americans.

So not only does Trump want to triple the number of ICE officers, he also wants to force businesses to do the job that ICE is supposed to be doing, adding even more paperwork and slowing the hiring process.

Defund sanctuary cities. Cut-off federal grants to any city which refuses to cooperate with federal law enforcement.

Again, if you think catching illegal immigrants is so damned important, do it yourself. Don’t force cities to spend their own money on enforcing laws they don’t want to enforce. Make all those ICE agents do their jobs.

Cooperate with local gang task forces. ICE officers should accompany local police departments conducting raids of violent street gangs like MS-13 and the 18th street gang, which have terrorized the country.

Now there’s a group that may be worse than ICE: Gang task forces. (Want to see a gang cop lie? Ask him how he knows someone is in a gang.)

All illegal aliens in gangs should be apprehended and deported.

And all children should have ponies.

Again, quoting Chris Crane: “ICE Officers and Agents are forced to apply the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Directive, not to children in schools, but to adult inmates in jails. If an illegal-alien inmate simply claims eligibility, ICE is forced to release the alien back into the community. This includes serious criminals who have committed felonies, who have assaulted officers, and who prey on children…”

I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I’m pretty sure it’s not true. It may be that ICE can’t detain these people on an immigration hold, but the states can always lock up criminals.

“…ICE should be working with any state or local drug or gang task force that asks for such assistance.”

Drug task forces. Even worse than gang task forces.

End birthright citizenship. This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration. By a 2:1 margin, voters say it’s the wrong policy, including Harry Reid who said “no sane country” would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.

Shorter Trump: Wahhh, we can’t deport the brown babies!

Increase prevailing wage for H-1Bs. We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program. More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program’s lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two.

The H-1B program ties workers’ visa status to their employer, making it hard for them to change jobs. This reduces their bargaining power. If you change the H1-B program to allow them to become unemployed without losing their jobs, they’ll demand wages much closer to American workers. Of course, that might make employers less likely to sponsor them, so maybe just eliminate the sponsorship requirement and convert it to a general guest worker program.

Some of Trump’s proposals amount to little more than anti-immigrant bigotry. I know his defenders insist he’s only talking about illegal immigrants, but not in these sections. This is pretty much an appeal to group identity:

…Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program.

And this is even more explicit:

Requirement to hire American workers first. Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement. In the year 2015, with 92 million Americans outside the workforce and incomes collapsing, we need to companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed.

Or this:

Immigration moderation. Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers. This will help reverse women’s plummeting workplace participation rate, grow wages, and allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages.

And then there’s petty shit like this:

Jobs program for inner city youth. The J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth will be terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program.

Jesus. Trump thinks the reason inner city youths can’t get jobs is because their resumes aren’t getting enough exposure.

And then there’s the naked “save the children” appeal:

Refugee program for American children. Increase standards for the admission of refugees and asylum-seekers to crack down on abuses. Use the monies saved on expensive refugee programs to help place American children without parents in safer homes and communities, and to improve community safety in high crime neighborhoods in the United States.

Why not raise taxes on gambling to save the children? Or real estate development? Reality TV shows? Everything seems like a good idea when you cast the alternative as not saving the children.

Even if we ignore the wackier stuff, the failure in economic thinking here — common to most political rhetoric about economics — is that it’s all about Americans as workers, but not about Americans as consumers. Cheap labor means it costs less to produce the goods and service everyone consumes. The laborers get better jobs, we get more stuff. Everybody wins. That’s why pretty much every economic study indicates that immigration is a net advantage for our economy and for the world.

I would have written more about Trump’s immigration policy, but instead I’ll just suggest you read these great pieces by Megan McArdleNick Gillespie, and Robby Soave.

And finally, Peter Suderman takes on the mistake of thinking that Trump actually has policy positions:

In his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, for example, Trump wrote that, in conducting his real-estate business, he would draw up architectural plans designed to look far more expensive and thoughtfully designed than they were, or have construction equipment engage in meaningless busywork in order to impress investors with the illusion of activity.

With his half-baked immigration white paper, Trump is doing essentially the same thing, but for his presidential campaign: He’s attempting, through the use of a simple gimmick, to create the illusion of thoughtfully crafted, substantive policy detail.

Which is pretty much where I came in.

Yet Another Tale of the Awful, Awful People at DHS

[Update: An earlier version of this story blamed ICE, but since it happened at a border crossing, I assume it’s actually Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and I have revised the story accordingly. I regret the error, but they both suck.]

I have long maintained that the U.S. immigration authorities in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have some of the worst un-American tendencies of any identifiable group in the country. Whether they’re turning back friendly tourists, keeping out musical styles they don’t understand, jailing people for years and deporting them for crimes they were never convicted of, or letting cancer victims die in their custody, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, it would be hard to find a similar bunch of intolerant thugs that wasn’t on the SPLC’s list of hate groups.

Now, via Maggie, here’s another example of DHS depravity, as described by Clay Nikiforuk, a young woman traveling through the United States:

First I was held by Vermont border guards for two hours in the middle of the night on my way to visit Nashville. They searched my bags at least five times. I could not help but notice how often my lingerie and “sexy underwear” were mentioned, how often the condoms they found were looked upon scathingly, and how most of the four male officers’ questions pertained to both. I was baffled as to why this was any of their business and unsure of what their objective was, other than fondling lady’s undergarments.

While I wouldn’t discount the pervert explanation — CBP is a sibling agency to the fondlers at the TSA — my assumption was that the CBP goons did the math something like this:

Lingerie + Condoms = Filthy, Filthy Whore!

The young lady’s next encounter confirms it:

The next time it happened was two weeks later in Montreal’s airport. After scanning my passport, without being asked a single question, I was immediately led to a back waiting room. When I was summoned into an office, the officer cut to the chase: “How much is he paying you to go on this trip?” He was referring to the man I was travelling with.

Confused, I just stared back at him for a few beats.


The next question was whether this man was married or not. The answer, unfortunately for me, was yes. He asked whether I was planning on sharing a hotel bed with this man. I’m not one to sugar coat things and decided that now would not be a particularly good time to be found lying. Again, I answered yes. Righteous, the officer demanded what exactly I was doing in a bed with a married man.

“That’s actually none of your business.”

I had kicked the hornet’s nest. Inflamed, he raised his voice at me that it was his business and that adultery was a crime in America — a crime that he could deny me entry for. He made me tell him my partner’s name and date of birth and threatened to detain him, too. I pointed out that we would be in Miami for a total of forty minutes to catch our next flight to Aruba; hardly enough time to run to our gate, let alone commit adultery. The next thing I knew he was searching my bags, pulling out condoms and waving them in my face.

“I could have you charged with being a working girl! The proof is right here!”

They eventually let her go, but on her third passage through U.S. territory, this happened:

This time I had left the condoms behind. But it was too late – there was a detailed profile of me, in which my nefarious condom-carrying behaviour was noted. Again, I was told to sit and wait for further questioning.

I watched as my entire flight’s passengers whizzed through customs in front of me. I was shaking. By the time someone got around to questioning me, I was told my flight was leaving.

I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever. Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a ‘Bad Cop’ type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of shit. He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I’m currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.

“Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?”

I blinked at him. I couldn’t breathe.

That line about sexual assault came from angry man who was holding a women alone in the room with him against her will. And it’s not like immigration agents haven’t raped women detainees before. The sad thing is that if she had freaked out and, say, gouged out one of his eyeballs with a pen so she could make her escape, some prosecutor would have tried to make it seem like she was the bad guy.

They eventually let her go, but not without further threats and orders not to re-enter the United States.

So, to summarize: CBP agents apparently think that women carrying condoms must be prostitutes. And they must be prostitutes who aren’t smart enough to just buy condoms after crossing the border. And if they’re traveling with a man, he must be either a client or a pimp. And they think stopping adultery is somehow part of their job description. And because of all this, they harassed and frightened this poor woman every time she crossed the border.

On the one hand, having seen how the assholes at CBP treat foreigners, I’m glad I’m a citizen. On the other hand, as a citizen, I’m pissed off that these customs goons are giving foreigners an impression of Americans that makes me look bad.

Finally, in addition to everything else that’s wrong with this series of incidents, think for a moment about what the CBP agents thought they were doing: They believed they had discovered that an attractive and sexually active young woman was coming here to have sex with members of the American male population. And they tried to stop her.

Talk about your un-American values.

Taking a Look at Obama’s Immigration Reform

I just got an email from Cecilia Muñoz, who is the Director of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, outlining the administration’s proposal for immigration reform. Rather than use the abbreviated description in the email, I’ll use the slightly wordier summary on the Whitehouse web site:

FACT SHEET: Fixing our Broken Immigration System so Everyone Plays by the Rules

“So everyone plays by the rules” is a worrisome phrase. The biggest problem with our immigration system is not some people are not playing by the rules, but that the rules themselves are stupid, arbitrary, and cruel. One of the most effective ways to get people to play by the rules is to have good rules.

America’s immigration system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living in the shadows.  Neither is good for the economy or the country.

If we’re going to complain that 11 million people are hiding, let’s be clear about who they’re hiding from. They’re not living in the shadows because they’re afraid of their employers; they’re living in the shadows because they’re afraid of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The page goes on to outline 4 key principles of “President Obama’s commonsense immigration reform proposal”:

Continuing to Strengthen Border Security: President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004 and today border security is stronger than it has ever been.  But there is more work to do.   The President’s proposal gives law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime.  And by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute national security threats.

Doubling border security and building wall sounds wasteful, as does giving law enforcement “the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime,” which also sounds like it will lead to some sort of abridgment of our rights.

Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules. The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable.  At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.

There are a couple of things very wrong with that paragraph. First of all, it shouldn’t be the job of employers to enforce federal immigration policy. That’s the job of the United States government. And just because the government can’t do its job, doesn’t mean they should push these responsibilities onto private employers, turning every business owner into an unpaid ICE agent.

(Some of you may think that’s crazy talk, but it used to be the law of the land up until sometime in the 1980’s. Before that, nobody had to show ID and fill out an I-9 form to take a job. Worrying about an employee’s immigration status just wasn’t the employer’s job, nor had it ever been.)

The second problem is that the President and Congress really ought to ask themselves why employers that hire illegal immigrants are able to “gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules.” Is it because those rules are bad for business? In that case, wouldn’t it make more sense to get rid of the bad rules? Or maybe it’s because illegal immigrants can be exploited. But the reason they are open to exploitation is because they can be imprisoned and deported if they come to the attention of the authorities. If you’re working illegally in the U.S. and you get cheated (or for that matter, if you get robbed or raped or beaten), do you go to the authorities? Or do you try to handle it as best you can on your own?

Earned Citizenship: It is just not practical to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders.

Not only is it impractical, it’s also a very cruel thing to do, ripping all those people away from their friends, families, and communities. Someone has to say it.

The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else.  Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship.

That last sentence has a lot of bad parts. National security and criminal background checks are a good idea — we don’t want terrorists and gangsters to get a free pass — but the devil is in the details, and given that ICE has no sense of proportion and uses their own private definition of criminality by treating misdemeanors as felonies, and dismissals as convictions — I’m more than a little worried about how much damage they can do.

I’m not sure what taxes and penalties they’re talking about here, but I have similar concerns about how those will be calculated. It’s one thing if the IRS just grinds through the process for back taxes, and quite another if the the monkeys at ICE will be assessing penalties of their own.

As for “going to the back of the line,” that’s complete nonsense. “The line” is why so many immigrants come here illegally in the first place. The quota for immigrants who just want a job — and have no special skills or relatives living here — is only about 10,000 people per year. Before the economy collapsed, illegal immigration was at least 500,000 people per year. If they had waited in line, it would have taken 50 years to get a work visa. Nobody is willing to wait that long to make a better life for themselves and their families. Going to the back of the line — even just having “the line” — is how we got here in the first place.

There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria.

That would be great if it actually happened. Who’s going to invest in America if they aren’t sure they won’t be kicked out? But this means committing to not kicking people out without a damned good reason. In our three-felonies-a-day society, any government employee who gets paid to kick out immigrants will be able to do so for the stupidest of reasons.

The proposal will also stop punishing innocent young people brought to the country through no fault of their own by their parents and give them a chance to earn their citizenship more quickly if they serve in the military or pursue higher education.

Great idea. But why isn’t being innocent good enough? Since becoming a citizen would be better for everybody, why make it harder by adding extra criteria?

Streamlining Legal Immigration:  Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules.  For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. The President’s proposal attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries.  The President’s proposal will also reunify families in a timely and humane manner.

So the wealthy, the educated, and those with family members here will have it easier than other immigrants? That’s not reform. That’s our immigration policy today. Most of the people who have come here illegally are neither wealthy nor educated — that’s kind of why they want jobs here — and most of them don’t have close family here (aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews don’t count).

Let’s look at the “Streamlining Legal Immigration” section a little closer by examining the detailed items listed further down in the Whitehouse press release:

Keep Families Together: … The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system.

Cut Red Tape For Employers: The proposal also eliminates the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system.

Dropping the essentially racist country caps is a great idea, but there is no principled reason to drop them for employer-sponsored immigrants while keeping them for family-sponsored immigrants. The contrast between these two sections makes clear that the proposed reforms are being driven mostly by the needs of businesses that want to hire immigrants, rather than concern for the welfare of the immigrants themselves. The next provision makes that crystal clear:

“Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas:  The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States.  It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers.

In other words, they’re going to allow in cheap high-tech workers so businesses don’t have to pay American high tech workers so much. I guess there’s a lot less political pressure to allow in more graphics designers, artists, waitresses, and auto mechanics.

Finally, check out the thicket of economic micromanagement in these three sections:

Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs:  The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.

Expand opportunities for investor visas and U.S. economic development: The proposal permanently authorizes immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; provides incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions; adds new measures to combat fraud and national security threats; includes data collection on economic impact; and creates a pilot program for  state and local government officials to promote economic development.

Create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories: The proposal creates a new visa category for a limited number of highly-skilled and specialized immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States. for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.

Every industry and every single business that wants to hire cheap immigrant labor will have to lobby Congress to make sure their needs are on the approved list. You don’t think that will lead to any corruption, do you?

If we really want to reform our immigration policy and reduce the damage caused by illegal immigration, the solution is to make legal immigration predictable, easy, and fast. Strip out the country caps, shorten the wait for permanent residency, and make it legal for everyone living here to work here.